Vlad Putin commemorated the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in his own inimitable fashion.
Nazism, he declared, wasn’t extinguished in 1945. It’s still alive and well and thriving in the Ukraine. For it’s only the neo-Nazis who resist Russia’s noble effort to eradicate that blight off the face of the earth.
The first two sentences tell the truth: neo-Nazis are indeed committing unspeakable atrocities in the Ukraine. But those yahoos are clad in Russian uniforms.
The denazification of the Ukraine was the declared purpose of Russia’s attack on the Ukraine. To give you an idea how the Russians are getting on, I’ve translated this account of a Ukrainian nurse, Olena.
That Mariupol woman in her late forties was taken prisoner by the Russians early in the war. A few days ago she was released after a POW exchange. A friend of hers tells Olena’s story, to which I can’t really add much. [The narrative jumps from first to third person, but I’m only the translator here. I’m sure you can follow well enough.]
“Olena worked at her Mariupol hospital for a long time, and after [the Russian attack on] 24 February she stayed on the job round the clock. The bombings started, and the wounded began to arrive in uncountable numbers. They kept coming and coming… Brought in were soldiers, children, old people. There was an impression, says Olena, that the Russians wanted to drown us in blood. There were rivers of blood everywhere, and there was little water to rinse it away. We washed the instruments with alcohol and kept working. There was no electricity, operations were lit by emergency generators.
“When the hospital was bombed out, we were ordered to break up between two bunkers. One half moved to Azovstal, the other to the vast Ilyich factory. There we had to keep changing bunkers all the time because, whenever the Russians spotted a transport of the wounded, they’d bomb it. The operating rooms were placed close to the exit, for us to be able to move the patients and equipment to another place quickly.
“In early March it was no longer possible to get out of the siege since Mariupol was surrounded by a triple encirclement. First the Russians imprisoned the male doctors, then also the women. They were put into cellars, where they had to lie on naked cement. At another transit point, the Russians put 40 people into a room with four beds. They slept like sardines in a tin. Prisoners were transported blindfolded and with their hands tied, sometimes by air. When they eventually found themselves in a camp in Russia, everything they owned had been long since taken away: toothbrushes, underwear and naturally telephones.
“In transit, the people were fed the kind of slops that even a hungry dog wouldn’t eat, many people were reduced to skin and bones. When they arrived at the prison, they began to get some gruel and bread, and Olena started to gain weight. The guards were out to break the people’s spirit.
“After the 6 am reveille, we were made to sing the Russian anthem 5-6 times in a row, and not normally but at the top of the voice. If the singing wasn’t loud enough, the guards would bang on the door with their truncheons. That was the first warning and, when the door was finally opened, everyone was terrified – they knew they’d be beaten again. They were beaten constantly. As a result of the bombings, Olena had lost not only her hearing, but also her voice. She could hardly speak, and she was beaten for that too.
“If during the rollcall the guards decided that a prisoner didn’t spread her legs wide enough, they’d beat her on the inside of her legs with a truncheon. One elderly woman had a dislocated hip, she had been taken just before the operation. She begged to be treated, but they were hitting her on the legs with truncheons and sometimes electric shock: ‘Here’s your treatment’.
“They were forced to watch Russian propaganda TV channels all day long. In the morning they were given sheets of verses glorifying the Russians. These had to be recited by heart at a specified time. Those who couldn’t memorise the verses were beaten.
“We had two civilians with us. One was an epileptic who was having fits, the other was mentally retarded and couldn’t memorise anything. They were beaten too. Olena kept repeating her question: ‘Why those sick civilians? What were they beaten for?’ I asked: ‘Who did the beating?’ ‘The female guards themselves.’ ‘Were they middle-aged?’ ‘No, young. They kept telling us that the Ukraine didn’t exist any longer, and no one had any use for us, prisoners. We were forgotten and written off.
“Olena was told to accept the Russian passport. She refused. They asked why, she replied she had her sons in Kiev. Well, Kiev isn’t there anymore, she was told… None of the imprisoned women gave in, although they were all tortured.”
Olena’s story will probably make only a footnote in a multi-volume indictment of the crimes committed by the Russians in the good tradition of both Stalin’s and Hitler’s Nazism. The indictment, I believe firmly, will be one day read out at an international tribunal, at the Hague or elsewhere, perhaps even at Nuremberg.
And I do hope that sitting in the dock next to the murderers, torturers, rapists and their leaders will be their propagandists, both Russian and Western – especially the latter, those who should have known better. For it wasn’t just the likes of Kaltenbrunner and Frank who got the noose, but also Rosenberg, Streicher and, later, William Joyce, ‘Lord Haw-Haw’.
The precedent is there, and their present-day typological equivalents should ponder it – with seriousness and trepidation.